Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Name:
Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

16.11.04

What I've been reading

I'm not terribly in the mood to comment about football these days, even though I said I would, but if you're a football fan and you don't think that throw by Donovan McNabb was easily in the top 5 of most amazing plays in NFL history, I don't think you can count yourself as a football fan, can you? Yes, I'm an Eagle homer, but please. It was ridiculous. Watch some sports highlight show this week and appreciate the genius.

Anyway, I've read a couple of books in the past week, both by the same author with the same theme. The books are The Queen's Man and Cruel as the Grave by Sharon Kay Penman. If Penman's famous for anything (I have no idea if she is; I read books based on whether I like them, not if the authors are famous, although in this Internet world, I'm sure there are people out there with web sites devoted to her), she's famous for writing huge novels about medieval English history. She has written a sympathetic novel about Richard III, a trilogy about 13th-century England (including her best book, Falls the Shadow, about Simon de Montfort), and she's two-thirds of the way through a trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's rather chaotic marriage. Apparently, when researching those novels got too much, she decided to write some shorter works. Thus, these two novels.

Both of these books are less than 300 pages, and they're quick reads. They follow the adventures of Justin de Quincy, a bishop's bastard son in 1193 who, through a good deed done in the first book, becomes the "queen's man," the queen in this case being Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most remarkable women of all time. If you don't know about Eleanor, she's a fascinating person to learn about. Justin is confronted with murders in both books, and the stories are about how he figures them out. These are medieval murder mysteries in the tradition of that monk guy. (I never read them; sue me.)

The interesting things about all Penman's work, but especially these two books, is how she brings medieval England to life. Yes, she uses many of the same overblown phrases and tropes occasionally, but you get a nice sense of how people lived back then, which is difficult since it really was such an alien time. In these books, Penman delves more into the lives of the common people, and we see daily life in London at the end of the 12th century and how people dealt with the random violence and uncertainty that comes from a government based almost completely on patronage. Penman's history is sometimes shaky, as she readily admits, but having recently read Pierre Riche's Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne and also, in the distant past, having read Marc Bloch's Feudal Society, her evocation of the world rings true. Again, she occasionally repeats situations, but it's still interesting.

Both these books are good, fun, quick reads. You get medieval detective work, with no fingerprinting or forensic science of any kind, you get high politics (Richard the Lion-Heart was in prison in Austria in 1193, and John -- of Robin Hood fame -- was conspiring against Eleanor -- his own mother -- for the throne), and you get romance and intrigue and treachery. If you're daunted by Penman's long works (and you really shouldn't be, but it's possible), I recommend checking out these two books to see what she's like. Then you can tackle the massive volumes!